Could California Republicans Help Elect A Liberal?

[ Posted Thursday, October 18th, 2018 – 17:11 UTC ]

Admittedly, it must be tough to be a California Republican these days. Although not on the official endangered species list, they are still definitely a dying breed. The state's large coastal urban population tilts the state deep blue, so the rural parts of the state are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the state's politics, because they're so outnumbered. The only Republican elected statewide in the past few decades wasn't even really a Republican, he was just an actor playing one for votes. Remember when the rest of the country laughed at California for electing a complete novice to the highest state office solely because of name recognition and the entertainment factor? Seems almost prophetic, these days. The state's "top-two jungle primary" has only made things worse, since now Republicans don't even have their own candidates on the ballot in many races on Election Day. Such is the case this year for the race for a U.S. Senate seat, because Dianne Feinstein will be facing off against fellow Democrat Kevin De León in November. Which got me thinking about a bizarre confluence of events that could actually see Republican voters propel the more liberal candidate into office.

This is just one of the strange situations the jungle primary has begotten. And by pointing it out, I draw no conclusions as to the likelihood of it actually happening. In other words, this is nothing more than sheer speculation on my part. But as strange as it seems, Republican voters may indeed help a very liberal guy defeat a sitting and very centrist Democratic senator.

What got me thinking about this was an article in today's San Jose Mercury News, which was written after the two candidates met for a debate. This debate was notable for the fact that it is the first one-on-one debate Feinstein has ever agreed to in 18 years of being elected to the Senate. It was not televised and was held in the middle of a workday, so not a whole lot of people actually even heard about it, but the very fact that Feinstein felt the need to participate shows she's at least a little worried about her challenger.

Feinstein is still way ahead in the polling, but the gap has closed somewhat. In the most recent poll available, from the Public Policy Institute of California, Feinstein is backed by 40 percent of California voters, while Kevin De León has 29 percent. What's notable about that is the large percent of people who are not backing either of them -- a whopping 31 percent of people polled. That's extraordinary since the election is so close, but it is yet another offshoot of the primary system which left only two Democrats on the general election ballot (note: this happened last time around as well, when Kamala Harris got elected).

But this paragraph from the Mercury News leapt out at me:

Amid the second Democrat-vs.-Democrat Senate contest in as many election cycles, many Republicans plan to sit out the race completely; just over half of GOP likely voters and a fourth of independents told PPIC they would leave their Senate ballot blank. Feinstein is clearly the more moderate choice, yet many GOP voters are incensed over what they consider her attempt to derail [Brett] Kavanaugh's confirmation and could be inspired to send Feinstein a message by backing her rival.

Kevin De León is a very progressive liberal, unlike Dianne Feinstein. He has been the leader of the state senate for almost 4 years, and has passed many bills far to the left of Feinstein's position. De León even passed a single-payer healthcare bill through his chamber (it died in the state assembly). His candidacy has in fact already drawn Feinstein a lot further left than she is used to, as has happened in many progressive-versus-centrist races across the country this year.

I personally think De León is being a bit Machiavellian by running against Feinstein this time around. I think he's really looking ahead to eventually replacing Feinstein, a few years down the road. After all, if Feinstein beats him, she will be 91 years old when her next Senate term ends. Sooner or later -- by resignation, by being defeated at the polls, or by dying in office -- Feinstein will exit the Senate. When that time rolls around, De León will now be perfectly positioned to step in. He had virtually no name recognition before now (most Californians don't pay much attention to what goes on in Sacramento), but the next time around he'll already have gotten his name out there by running against Feinstein now. He'll be seen by many as the "next in line" for the job, in other words. I think this is his real goal in running now, in fact.

Most people expect Feinstein to win easily. If those 31 percent of voters leave the ballot blank, then Feinstein will win with 58 percent of the cast votes (if that poll is correct), to De León's 42 percent. That's a pretty big gap for De León to make up, and he's got less than three weeks to do it. So the safe bet is that Feinstein returns to the Senate. De León winning would be a major upset.

But it could happen. If half of the voters who are now sitting out the race do decide to cast a ballot for De León, he will be the surprise victor. What's really funny about this situation is that the crucial element may be Donald Trump personally vilifying Feinstein every chance he gets. He has been leading chants of: "Lock her up!" directed at Feinstein, during his recent political rallies. Republican voters have indeed settled upon her as the chief villain (in their eyes) from the Kavanaugh fight. And hatred drives voters more than love does. Voting against an odious politician gets people to the polls more than voting for someone they approve of, in other words. So it could happen. By voting for "Anyone But Feinstein," Republicans could tip the vote towards a truly liberal Democrat.

If this miraculously comes to pass in a few weeks, the irony will be thick and tasty for progressives. Because if De León does manage a win, and if it is determined that Republican voters put him over the top, then progressives will have none other than Donald Trump to thank for helping elect one of the most progressive members of the Senate. Out of spite, both Trump and the GOP voters will have shot themselves in the foot, essentially. Since there is no Republican candidate on the ballot, their only chance to cast a protest vote is to check the box next to the ultra-liberal candidate. Since many don't even know who De León is, they might just do so in large numbers.

The top-two jungle primary idea was sold to Californians as a way for more-moderate politicians to get elected. The reasoning was that a far lefty (or a far righty) would, at times, be forced to run against a more-moderate member of their own party, who would siphon votes from the other party's voters. This would eventually result in the Utopian dreamworld of moderate politicians who work across the aisle with regularity. This has not actually happened, it is worth mentioning, even at the state level. Partisanship still rules the day and the parties have gotten even farther apart. This is the final reason why a De León win would be so hilariously ironic, in fact. Rather than re-elect a moderate senator, the top-two primary system might just lead to angry Republicans casting protest votes against her (because Trump has taught them to hate her so much), and wind up with an ultra-liberal representing them in the Senate instead. So much for that centrist Utopia the primary system was supposed to create, eh?

Sooner or later, Californians are going to tire of all the bizarre scenarios the top-two primary continues to create. That's my sincere hope, at any rate. Maybe the state will return to regular primaries and regular general elections, so we won't have races with only two members of the same party on the November ballot. But in the meantime, the bizarre nature of the system may continue to set up astonishing situations like the possibility of GOP voters handing a Senate seat to the farthest left candidate.

So I would heartily encourage California Republicans to send the strongest message possible against the hated DiFi this November, and cast your ballot for Kevin De León. Boy, that'll teach her! And Donald Trump will be so proud of you for doing so!

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


22 Comments on “Could California Republicans Help Elect A Liberal?”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    If half of the voters who are now sitting out the race do decide to cast a ballot for De León, he will be the surprise victor.

    What's this? You're oh so very close, but you spelled it wrong CW.
    It's not De León... it's Don Lemon, and you write his name in on your ballot. Also, you left out the part about lemonade and/or lemon pie.

    What are y'all smoking out there in California? The whole bloody thing is non compos mentis. :)

  2. [2] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Chris, how do you evaluate De León's effectiveness as a legislator? I've read a comment that suggests he hasn't been very successful at getting the policies he advocates into law, but that could be obstruction by others rather than personal effectiveness.

    I might add that I am pleased to see that my California ballot is a lot less white male at all levels than it was when I first voted about 50 years ago.

    (Sorry to be a party pooper, guys, but I take this voting thing seriously and need to put my ballot in the mail soon.)

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:


    (Sorry to be a party pooper, guys, but I take this voting thing seriously and need to put my ballot in the mail soon.)

    Hey, just for the record, I'll be voting on Monday in 3 days and also loaning my SUV that seats 8 in order to drive people to the polls. The absolute last thing I'll be doing is encouraging anyone to throw away their vote. :)

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    it's very irresponsible of you as a supposedly reality based journalist to write about some provincial election while still refusing to run even one column on the potential political merits of pie.


  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @kick [1],

    yes, perhaps it was an honest mistake. maybe he did really mean, "de lemon pie." how about it CW, care to clarify?


  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    No, not some lame acronym for pie, ACTUAL pie! 80% of the american population likes pie, and yet only 50% vote. If non-voters knew that a candidate supports pie then they would start voting, but only for pie-friendly candidates. It will take a brave journalist/blogger to break the silence and give pie a chance.

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    also please note that i've changed my profile link to the american pie council, so you can find out more about pie just by clicking on my name. Isn't that a convenient way for you to learn more about everyone's favorite dessert food?


  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    oh it's been proven many times over. just look at the pie council web site, there's last year's winners, invitation to the next pie championships in 2019, recent media releases and press kit, membership form and other upcoming events. for example:

    Day and Night of Pie - Macomb, IL, Friday, November 10th at 4:00PM, The Old Bailey House, 100 S. Campbell St., Macomb, IL.

    that's the kind of dedication and effort that proves the time is right for pie to take the country by storm.


  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Plus, membership includes a subscription to "Pie Times!"

  10. [10] 
    lharvey16 wrote:

    nypoet22 + don harris = cramped scrolling wheel.
    great column as always CW

  11. [11] 
    lharvey16 wrote:

    sorry, i meant "nypoet22 + don harris = cramped scrolling wheel FINGER.
    great column as always CW

  12. [12] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Iharvey18 and 19

    "nypoet22 + don harris = cramped scrolling wheel FINGER."

    The scrolling problem is actually minimal compared to a few months ago. If you want to save scrolling finger check out the Sept 21, 2016 column, comment 62 in the archives section. Download the tamper monkey script. It lets you block (and unblock)selected personae.

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    If you're only going to read the comments you approve of, why bother participating at all?

    Stick around awhile and you'll understand.

  14. [14] 
    Paula wrote:

    Steve Benen does another shoot-down of the familiar: Dems-don't-have-a-message complaint. That's false, but it get's trumpeted a lot - in this case by rape-supporting perjury-excusing cover-up-assisting Republian Ben Sasse who wants to "both sides do it" in order to avoid having to admit he's on the side with the bad guys and constantly helps them with his votes.

    Those who continue to believe Dems are pushing nothing more than a hollow, anti-Trump message aren’t paying close enough attention.

    In fact, by all appearances, Democratic officials decided early on that the key to success was a more policy-focused platform that had very little to do with the president.

    “Our candidates don’t have to talk about him, because he’s going to talk about himself for us,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.) said several weeks ago. “He’ll remind the American people of every investigation he’s involved with, of every disgusting tweet that is out there, of all the positions the Trump administration has taken.”

  15. [15] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I participate because of the vast majority of correspondents, regulars, or not so regulars, who aren't cranks or trolls.

  16. [16] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I believe in freedom of speech....I also believe in the right to be left alone.

    No oxen are gored by my policy.

  17. [17] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Paula [22] You can always tell when a Republican is losing an argument, because out pops the false equivalence argument (that both sides are equally bad). It's a fallback position, an undisguised appeal to hipsters, pseudo-leftists, and independents looking for an excuse Not to vote for Democrats.

    The problem with that argument is that it's so demonstrably false in the age of Trump. Republicans are flat out against affordable health care - as they've proven with both words and votes. As Rachel pointed out last night, Scott Walker (R-WI) has taken to the airwaves to assert that he's FOR popular provisions of Obamacare, while simultaneously suing the federal government to abolish those same provisions. Liar, liar, Governorship on fire!

  18. [18] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Here's an article worth reading, sorta on that same topic:

    You Think The GOP Is Extreme Now? It’ll Be Worse If They Win In November.

  19. [19] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    PIE is the new official nickname of One Demand, so when other commenters here say you should write aboot pie they are saying you should write aboot One Demand.

    No, it most certainly is not, and furthermore:

    You don't get to define other people's choices to fit your desires. ~ Don Harris

    So listen to Kick, Nypoet, Liz and the other pie enthusiasts and write aboot One Demand.

    Yes, please listen to Kick and write about whatever your heart desires, but know this: The day you write about One Demand after being trolled incessantly to do so is the day I question your sagacity. :)

  20. [20] 
    Kick wrote:


    Yes! :)

  21. [21] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    Well i hope you don't lump me in either of those categories, pie notwithstanding. I guess those who aren't regulars don't get the context.


  22. [22] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I don't consider you a crank or a troll. I think the Wikipedia definitions of the two are excellent.

    "Cranks characteristically dismiss all evidence or arguments which contradict their own unconventional beliefs, making any rational debate a futile task and rendering them impervious to facts, evidence, and rational inference."

    A troll is "a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll's amusement or a specific gain." - Wikipedia

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